Brothers in Arms, Part 4: The Gathering Storm of Patriots and Plainclothes Politicians

This article is our final installment in a series that explores the historical and contemporary links between racial intolerance and opposition to abortion. Previously, this series examined the connections that developed in the 1980s between white supremacists and the anti-abortion movement, which bred a growing extremism and led to the first assassination of an abortion provider in 1993. This installment looks at the threats that developed in the aftermath.

1996 Planned Parenthood publication detailing militia movement links to anti-abortion terrorism

On March 11, 1993, Michael Frederick Griffin approached Dr. David Gunn outside his Pensacola clinic and shot him in the back three times, reportedly shouting, “Don’t kill any more babies!” Griffin, who had been radicalized by former Klansman and anti-abortion crusader John Burt, committed the first assassination of an abortion provider in the U.S. The following year, 1994, saw a record four murders and eight attempted murders by anti-abortion extremists, and more than half of the estimated 1,500 abortion clinics in the U.S. were targets of anti-abortion crimes, such as arson or bombings, in the first seven months of 1994. Although the next two years would see decreases in some types of anti-abortion crimes, clinics have never been free of threats in any of the years since.


Since the 1990s, anti-government groups have stirred racial hatred and anti-abortion extremism on the right.


Just weeks after Dr. Gunn’s assassination, the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives ended a 51-day armed standoff at a compound in Waco, Texas, the home of a religious cult known as the Branch Davidians. The standoff began in response to reports that the cult was abusing children and stockpiling illegal weapons. The siege ended on April 19, 1993 — 25 years ago this month — when the cult’s leader, David Koresh, ordered his followers to ignite fires that soon engulfed the compound in flames. By the end of the standoff, 75 people had lost their lives.

The federal government’s actions in Waco had overwhelming public support — 70 percent according to a poll conducted shortly after the siege — but to many right-wing activists, who held a deep distrust of the federal government, Waco was a gross display of heavy-handed government intrusion; tyrannical, military-style policing; and violent intolerance of religious liberty. Waco thus became a rallying cry for a growing, militant movement in the political right. Continue reading

International Women’s Day: She Persisted

March 8 is International Women’s Day, a time to celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. International Women’s Day was first celebrated in 1909 in the United States, and was officially designated as a worldwide holiday by the International Women’s Conference in 1910. The founders of this conference were socialists and communists who wanted equity for women’s contributions to the workforce, particularly in the garment industry, where women worked for 12 hours a day in hazardous conditions for very little pay.


Celebrate women who have fought winning battles for human rights.


International Women’s Day also praises women who have fought to gain voting rights around the world. Citizens of the United States are (or at least should be) aware of American suffragists like Sojourner Truth and Susan B. Anthony, whose efforts culminated in the 19th amendment of the Constitution, giving American women the right to vote in 1919.

We should also honor the struggles of women in other countries to get the right to vote. For instance, Sylvia Pankhurst was a leader of the British suffrage movement, and was active in the labor movement as well. Many of us take the right to vote for granted, but let’s not forget that women in Saudi Arabia were unable to vote until 2015, and they weren’t even allowed to drive a car until the Saudi royalty decreed that women could start driving this year.

Past generations of women fought hard for the right to vote, and the current generation is an untapped source of power at the ballot box. For example, while only half of registered millennial voters cast a ballot in 2016, this level of voter participation was an increase from the previous election cycle. Collectively, more millennials and members of Generation X cast ballots than did members of older generations. That can be credited to the fact that members of younger generations outnumber members of the older generations, but it is also an indication of the potential young people have to create change when they exercise their right to vote. Continue reading

Brothers in Arms, Part 1: Racist Anti-Abortion Rhetoric from the Restell Years to Roe v. Wade

Newspaper illustration of Madame Restell in jail, February 23, 1878

This article is our first installment in a series that explores the historical and contemporary links between racial intolerance and opposition to abortion, from the fears of immigration that fueled abortion prohibition in the late 1800s to the gender-based hatred rooted in today’s white nationalist resurgence.

In the battle over abortion, Kentucky was this year’s ground zero. In Louisville, the EMW Women’s Surgical Center fought to keep its doors open, as a governor, a legislature, and a base of activists — all hostile to abortion — made it their mission to shut the clinic down. For reproductive justice advocates, the stakes were high, as EMW stands as the only abortion provider in Kentucky, the last one in a state that had more than a dozen such providers in the late 1970s.


In the 19th century, opposition to abortion was fueled by racist paranoia.


The situation in Louisville was emblematic of a national phenomenon. In 2011, state legislatures entered a fever pitch, passing new restrictions on abortion, including ultrasound requirements, waiting periods, state-mandated counseling, and prohibitions against telemedicine care and abortion medications. Within a few years, more than 200 restrictions were enacted, and by early 2016, The Washington Post was reporting that 162 abortion providers had closed in their wake.

Boom Years for Abortion

When Ann Lohman first opened her abortion practice, her experience could not have stood in starker contrast to the battle of attrition against regulations and harassment that shutters many of today’s providers. If there were any challenges to keeping her doors open, it was competing with the many other providers who clamored for attention, with advertisements in newspapers, popular magazines, and even religious publications. Lohman’s own advertising budget, to stand out from the crowd, eventually reached $60,000 a year.

Lohman’s experience, like the EMW Center’s, was a sign of the times — but they were very different times.  Continue reading

For Women’s Equality Day, A Call to Use Your Right to Vote

On August 18, 1920, Congress ratified the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and on August 26, 1920, it was certified: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

It had taken 72 years: In 1848, when Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott convened the first women’s rights convention in U.S. history at Seneca Falls, this resolution was passed: “Resolved, That it is the duty of the women of this country to secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise.”


People in power would not be trying so hard to keep us from voting if our votes weren’t powerful. We must not give up that power.


Of 12 resolutions, it was the only one that was not passed unanimously. Although leaders such as Sojourner Truth, Mary McClintock, Susan B. Anthony, and Frederick Douglass supported a resolution demanding women’s right to vote, many other attendees thought such a resolution might be a bridge too far. But by 1920, after women had marched, rallied, and faced abuse and arrest, several states had already adopted women’s suffrage.

In 1971, the newly elected Rep. Bella Abzug proposed observing August 26 as Women’s Equality Day to commemorate women’s suffrage, and a joint resolution of Congress made it so. But getting the right to vote cannot be considered a victory if we do not exercise that right. In the 2016 election, only 58 percent of registered voters actually cast a ballot. Although Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by 2.9 million votes, she trailed President Obama’s 2008 votes by 3.4 million. Continue reading

Bros and Cons: A Glimpse into a Dystopic Present

Must admit, upon first viewing the Saturday Night Live sketch about The Handmaid’s Tale, I found it appalling. OK, so I’m old, but I can’t believe how those guys got it on so easily with women. Sounds like one big party, with “epic blowouts” where people of both sexes hung out and had fun together naturally. In my time, you really had to work at meeting women, making the rounds of smoke-filled flesh palaces or joining some social club to feign shared interest, only to be shot down most of the time.

But what really got me was the utter cluelessness and insensitivity of the guys toward a member of the “girl squad” who just had her eye cut out for not playing by the rules. In their world of the not-too-distant American future — a dystopian society based on religion — women have lost all rights, including control of their own bodies, existing only to be impregnated like cattle by their owner-husbands. The hard-partying boys feign concern, offering lame suggestions and offers to help. But you know they won’t, for they don’t see a problem. Instead, they blame the woman, asking why she doesn’t just leave the guy if he’s so cruel to her, completely ignoring the fact that she can’t.

Thankfully, The Handmaids Tale is pure fantasy. It could never happen here. America is nothing like that. Unlike in Margaret Atwood’s book, women today hold down jobs and spend their own money. They can marry or not marry whomever they choose and have complete control of their bodies. Religion doesn’t tell us what to do. And don’t forget, women can vote now. Continue reading

Women’s Equality Day: Vote to Ensure Your Equality Every Day

1911-SuffragettesIn 1971, Bella Abzug — U.S. Representative, leader of the Women’s Movement, co-founder of the National Women’s Political Caucus, and close friend of Gloria Steinem — introduced legislation for Women’s Equality Day to observe the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which granted women the right to vote.


To ensure your equality is protected every single day, vote in the primary election today!


While it is important to remember that the right to vote and have an equal voice was not so easily granted, gender equality does not begin and end with one day, one amendment, or one right granted to women (only 94 years ago). The right to vote, however, is the catalyst to ensure that every day is a day of equality for women. By wielding your right to vote during primary, local, and national elections, you have the power to elect officials who will enact the legislation that protects you against inequalities including, but not limited to:

Continue reading

From Censorship to Insufficiency: Sex Education from the Dennett Trials to Today

In an article published the day after her trial, the New York Times described the defendant as a “gray-haired, kindly-looking matron.” When she took the stand in the Federal District Court in Brooklyn, the 53-year-old grandmother introduced herself as a maker of decorative wall hangings and an occasional writer for magazines.

Maybe it was a sign of the times that such an unusual defendant could be facing an obscenity charge that spring afternoon in 1929. The decade known as the Roaring Twenties shook established conventions as metropolitan centers like Chicago and New York became the birthplaces of modern cultural movements that pushed old boundaries. Showing disdain for the conservative dress and sexual ethos of the past, women in short hair and short skirts, dubbed flappers, were sensationalized for their cavalier attitudes toward sex. Pushing limits further, homosexuals and gender nonconformists earned nods of recognition in everything from stage productions (Mae West’s The Drag) to popular music (Edgar Leslie and James Monaco’s “Masculine Women, Feminine Men”), benefiting from a level of social acceptance that anticipated the 1960s. Meanwhile, the popularity of jazz challenged racial barriers as black and white musicians collaborated on stage and in studios, and as black and white socialites mixed in lively venues like Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom.


Mary Ware Dennett was a pioneer for sex education — both through her writing and the legal battle she fought.


Amid those changes, some people still weren’t ready for the controversial publication Mary Ware Dennett was in court for distributing, even if that publication had been well received by the medical community and, furthermore, had been sent to such tame and respected clients as the Bronxville school system, state public health departments, and various religious and civic organizations like the Union Theological Seminary and the YWCA. The publication was one Dennett had written 11 years earlier for her two sons, then 11 and 14 years old. She wrote it after realizing that, without it, they wouldn’t receive the sex education they needed: “When my children reached the age when I wished to supplement what had been taught verbally, I sought something for them to read.” After searching “some sixty volumes,” Dennett decided to give up and write her own material. Continue reading